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What are deserts like?

Negev Desert, IsraelNegev Desert, IsraelDeserts are found in areas where very little rain falls. Apart from in fertile spots called oases, there is little sign of life. Most deserts are just bare rock and gravel, although some deserts have vast areas of sand. Areas of desert are found in the west of the USA and South America, as well as in central and southwest Asia, Australia and both northern and southern Africa. Antarctica is also a desert: very little snow ever falls there.

A sand sea, known as an ergA sand sea, known as an erg

Sandy deserts

We often think of deserts as sandy regions, but only about one fifth of the world’s deserts are sandy. Most of the Sahara Desert is covered by rock or gravel. Only one tenth is sandy. Where sand occurs in a desert, the wind sometimes piles up smooth mounds called dunes. Where the wind always blows in the same direction, crescent-shaped dunes called barchans are the result. They creep slowly across the desert, blown by the wind.

A desert landscape showing featuresA desert landscape showing features

Delicate Arch in UtahDelicate Arch in Utah

Wind erosion

“Hot” deserts are often bitterly cold at night. The Takla Makan Desert, China, may be a scorching 40°C (more than 100°F) by day, yet it plunges to -40°C (-40°F) at night.

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